Thomas “Tad” Lincoln – Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation
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Thomas “Tad” Lincoln (April 4, 1853 – July 15, 1871) was the fourth and youngest son of President Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln. Tad was named after Thomas Lincoln, Abraham’s father who had died in 1851. Tad’s head was unusually large at birth. Abraham, viewing the contrast between the large head and tiny baby figure, thought he resembled a tadpole, which was the origin of a nickname that stuck for the rest of Tad’s life.

Many current historians suspect that Tad was born with a cleft palate which, without modern corrective surgery, resulted in teeth that did not grow in straight, and he a spoke with a lisp. His diet was limited to foods that were easy to bite or chew or had been given much preparation in advance. He had a marked speech impediment.

Growing up, Tad had an appealing boyish face with dark hair like his dad’s. His eyes were dark. Tad was quick in his movements and talked rapidly. He was imaginative, sensitive, exasperating, loving, and highly emotional. Tad’s behavior and manners were often unpredictable and sometimes difficult to deal with.

Tad was eight years old when the Lincoln family moved into the White House in 1861. Although Tad was more rambunctious than his brother, Willie, both boys enjoyed playing pranks around the Executive Mansion. In the White House, Tad sprayed dignitaries with the fire hose, broke mirrors, locked doors, interrupted Cabinet meetings, constructed wagons and sleds out of chairs, set up a food shop in the lobby, rang the call bells, and drilled the servants (as if they were soldiers). Abraham generally laughed at his sons’ tricks, and any kind of discipline was generally lacking.

Tad seemed to enjoy the idea of throwing the White House and its staff into a dither. Because of the times, some of Tad’s games were war-related. He received a pretend military commission from Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Mrs. Lincoln hired tutors for the boys, but only Willie took education seriously. Regarding Tad, the President’s secretary, John Hay, wrote, “He had a very bad opinion of books and no opinion of discipline.” The attitude of the parents was basically “let the children have a good time.”

In February,1862, Willie died, leaving him with no one to play with. His oldest brother Robert was in college.

Like Abraham and Mary Todd, young Tad loved the theater. Tad often went to rehearsals at Grover’s Theatre and became a familiar figure backstage. He was quite a hit with the stage workmen. He personally appeared in at least two plays when his dad was in the audience.
Assassination of his Father

On April 14, 1865, Tad went to the Grover Theater to see ‘Aladdin and the Magic Lamp’ with his tutor while his parents attended ‘Our American Cousin’ at Ford’s Theater. During the play information about the President’s shooting was whispered in the tutor’s ear.

After Tad had departed, theatre manager C. D. Hess stepped onto the stage and announced the tragedy to the audience. Tad was taken back to the White House and comforted by a member of the White House staff, Tom Pendel. Pendel put Tad to bed around midnight. The next morning when Mary Todd returned from the Petersen House and news of Abraham’s death spread, Tad put his arms around his mother’s neck and said, “Don’t cry so, Mamma! Don’t cry, or you will make me cry, too! You will break my heart!”

One morning several days after the assassination, Tad faced up to his new situation in life. He said to a White House servant, “Pa is dead. I can hardly believe that I shall never see him again. I must learn to take care of myself now. Yes, Pa is dead, and I am only Tad Lincoln now, little Tad, like other little boys. I am not a President’s son now. I won’t have many presents anymore. Well, I will try and be a good boy, and will hope to go someday to Pa and brother Willie, in heaven.”

The Lincoln family moved to Chicago, and Mary became increasingly concerned about Tad’s lack of schooling. In 1865 at age 12 he could not write and was almost completely illiterate despite having been tutored in the White House. Tad began to attend school in Chicago in January of 1866. When the family moved to a new location in Chicago, Tad began attending the Brown School on Warren Avenue. There, Tad was editor of the school newspaper. In 1867 Tad and his brother traveled to Washington to testify in the trial of John Surratt (who was accused of conspiring with John Wilkes Booth).

In 1868, Mary Todd decided to travel to Europe; on October 1 of that year, Mary and Tad sailed out of New York. It would be 2 1/2 years before Tad would set foot on American soil again. The two Lincolns settled in Frankfurt, Germany, and Tad was enrolled in a boarding school operated by Dr. Hohagen. The school had an excellent reputation. Tad and his mother were very close. In December, 1869, Mary wrote to her friend, Sally B. Orne, “Taddie is like some old woman with regard to his care of me. His dark, loving eyes watching over me remind me so much of his dearly beloved father’s.” In 1870, because of the Franco-Prussian War, the Lincolns moved to England. There Tad had a private tutor.

Mother and son embarked for the United States in 1871, and during their voyage home, Tad became ill. By late May of that year, Tad developed difficulty in breathing when lying down and had to sleep sitting up in a chair. By early June he was dangerously ill. He then rallied for a short time. As July approached he weakened again. Tad’s pain and agony worsened as his face grew thinner. On Saturday morning, July 15, 1871, Tad passed away at the age of 18. The cause of death was most likely tuberculosis. Tad’s death occurred in the Clifton House in Chicago.


On June 16, 1871, simple funeral services were held for Tad in Robert Lincoln’s home in Chicago. Robert accompanied the casket in which Tad’s remains were transported to Springfield by train.. Tad was buried in the Lincoln Tomb at Oak Ridge Cemetery, alongside his Father and two of his brothers. Mary was too distraught to make the trip.